Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Senate bill could help Colorado's wildlife hit hard by brain disease

Posted By on Wed, Nov 21, 2018 at 4:44 PM

click to enlarge At least 37 percent of Colorado's elk herds are affected by chronic wasting disease. - COLORADO PARKS AND WILDLIFE / DAVID HANNIGAN
  • Colorado Parks and Wildlife / David Hannigan
  • At least 37 percent of Colorado's elk herds are affected by chronic wasting disease.

A fatal neurological disease that affects more than half of Colorado's deer herds is getting renewed attention on Capitol Hill.

Colorado's Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet joined Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) in introducing a bill Nov. 15 that would authorize a national study on how to prevent chronic wasting disease from spreading. (A similar bill was introduced in June in the House, where it currently sits in committee.)

The disease is caused by a protein that "attacks the brains of infected deer, elk and moose, causing the animals to display abnormal behavior, become uncoordinated and emaciated, and eventually die," according to information on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) website. It's been cited by city councilors as one reason Colorado Springs should authorize urban hunting or hire professional shooters to control the deer population.

The bill, of which Barrasso is the lead sponsor, would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to enter into an agreement with the National Academy of Sciences to review data and best management practices from state agencies. The goal is to "give state wildlife agencies and wildlife experts information to conduct targeted research on how the disease is transmitted, determine which areas are most at risk, and develop consistent advice for hunters to prevent further spread," according to a statement from Bennet's office.

CPW calls chronic wasting disease — which affects at least 57 percent of the state's deer herds, 37 percent of its elk herds and 22 percent of its moose herds — a "significant threat to the future health and vitality" of deer, elk and moose.

City Councilors Andy Pico, Don Knight and Merv Bennett had hoped the city would be able to hire professional hunters to cull a few dozen does within city limits in January. Though allowing urban bowhunting was one option councilors had originally discussed, they concluded at an August meeting with city and state officials that it was too close to the end of the season to implement such a policy.

The city issued a request for proposals on Aug. 20 for deer management, which called for a plan to be submitted by Sept. 30. "The deer management program is intended to maintain deer as an asset to the community; prevent disease due to overpopulation of deer; reduce the public safety risks of deer-vehicle conflicts; and preserve and protect the land of private and public property owners," the RFP said.

From there, the councilors had hoped the city could issue a new RFP for a culling company to carry out the management plan.

When asked whether that timeline was still in place, Pico said in a Nov. 21 email that one firm submitted a response to the RFP for a management plan, but it recommended the city not proceed "based on several factors."

"Also, the state has to approve such a plan and none have been approved in the state that I’m aware of," he wrote. "So culling in January isn’t going to happen."

In the meantime, Pico points out that City Council will consider a "don't feed the wildlife" ordinance for final approval Nov. 27. The ordinance would implement a $500 fine, on top of the state's $50 fine, for providing food to bears, skunks, raccoons, wolves, coyotes, foxes, deer, elk, moose, antelopes and other urban wildlife. The city contends that feeding wildlife "endangers the health and safety of both residents and animals" via vehicle crashes and wildlife's reliance on food from humans.

"And in the near term," Pico writes, "we will continue to cull using Fords, Chevys and Toyotas."

The city reports that a CPW survey counted about 2,700 deer in an area west of Interstate 25, or about 70 deer per square mile. From January to November 2017, Public Works removed 306 dead deer from roads and elsewhere, and police report about 50 traffic crashes involving deer each year.

CPW estimates about 200 does per year need to be eliminated to have an impact on herds within the city limits, the city says.

Read the full text of the Senate bill here:

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